I haven’t watched a lot of “Kids on Bikes” movies and fiction – I’ve seen ET, Explorers, and The Goonies, and as of this writing am currently in the middle of reading IT (which is something of a Kids on Bikes story for the flashback sequences) but I haven’t seen or read any of the other works that really feed into subsequent works like Stranger Things. I haven’t seen Monster Squad, and until recently, I hadn’t seen The Gate – a lesser-known work in the genre that I hadn’t heard about until Giant Bomb did a “Film and 40s” commentary for it with the Giant Beast crew. Well, this oversight has, at long last, been rectified.

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A few weeks ago (as of when I write this in October) I came to learn that the most popular tabletop RPG in Japan right now was neither D&D nor a homegrown RPG like Sword World, but Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Also, I learned Dark Horse Comics had released a collection of adaptations of the works of H.P. Lovecraft by artist Gou Tanabe and had announced a planned release of Tanabe’s adaptation of At The Mountains of Madness. Thus, it seemed appropriate to read the first of Tanabe’s adaptations and get a feel for his take on Lovecraft’s work. (more…)

Altered Space is something of a horror film that isn’t quite a horror film. In a way, it’s difficult to describe – this is my first time watching a film by Ken Russell, but his reputation has preceded him. Specifically, his reputation for psychedelic, religious, and psychosexual imagery. All of those things are present in Altered Space in spades – with subject matter that is fundamentally horrific but is never presented in that manner. (more…)

Almost 20 years after Dario Argento released the middle installment of his “Three Mothers Trilogy” he made the final installment of the series – Mother of Tears. As with most series that take this long between installments, there is a sense that what you’ll get with the final installment can never live up to what expectations you’ve set for it. However, even then, Mother of Tears is particularly disappointing. (more…)

One of the interesting things I like about the boom of interest in Exploitation film after Grindhouse, along with the rise of DVDs as a media format is the rise of the Trailer DVD – a DVD chock full of trailers for various exploitation films from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. They make for a great snapshot of a moment in time, showcasing both how films were sold (and what you could get away with in trailers), along with the movies being sold. (more…)

Suspiria was what I’d describe as one of the best films Dario Argento ever made, with a tremendous visual esthetic, particularly through the use of color in the film, combined with the excellent score by Goblin. So, it’s not surprising that Dario made a semi-spiritual sequel. The second film, Inferno, introduced the thematic series that Argento named “The Three Mothers” trilogy, with the films based around three witches drawn from Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de ProfundisInferno aims to basically be “like Suspiria but more so,” but it doesn’t quite work. (more…)

Eyes Without A Face is a very engaging, but bleak horror film. Not bleak in the sense of the horror exploitation films of the 1970s, where the endings erred on the side of “Nobody survived and this is going to happen again” or even just “None of our protagonists survived” as was the case of Night of The Living Dead. The film’s ending does have a true sense of catharsis, and if it was narratively framed differently, it would end on a much more upbeat note.

To get into this, I’m going to have to get into spoilers for a film from 1960. If you want to come in cold, consider this your warning. (more…)

In the ’70s, and ’80s, there was a massive boom in horror cinema in various stripes, from the US and Italy, combined with the general boom in Exploitation films. This boom wasn’t just limited to film. This period also saw a dramatic increase in the amount of horror novels published in the US – with highly successful novels like The ExorcistRosemary’s Baby, and The Amityville Horror, and Jaws (all of which were later adapted to the screen), leading to an accompanying rise in horror novels.

Paperbacks from Hell goes into this boom and basically breaks down the slew of horror novels into manageable chunks. Not by year, but by sub-genre, getting into what gave each subgenre its appeal. White Flight from the cities and the success of The Amityville Horror helped boost the popularity of haunted house stories, and so on.

The tone of the work is somewhat irreverent – recognizing that when you have so many hundreds upon hundreds of horror novels in myriad sub-genres can lead to a very high level of crap, and a lot of formulaic writing. It makes for a book that I’d almost describe as what you’d get if Brad Jones wrote a guide to Exploitation film.

The book also pulls no punches when it comes to criticism. Author Grady Hendrix makes it clear that some of these genres in particular, especially those who put the horror in an urban setting, are basically written to play on conservative fears. Hendrix does a good job of calling attention to a great deal of the misogyny that with those books, along to other bits of bigotry (especially when it comes to the writing of people of color and gay characters). In turn, the horror books based around rural are also based about more progressive observations – the coal town making a deal with the devil to reopen the mine and bring the jobs back (but in turn opening a portal to hell).

While some of the big names, like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, and Poppy Z. Brite are certainly mentioned – their work helped keep the boom going, and their fiction has been able to endure long after the paperback boom has ended – he puts a lot of focus on other, lesser known horror authors. By no means are they all good, but they are all certainly interesting, either in terms of the particular fears they called on to fuel their work, or their own personal careers.

The book is also interspersed with a wide variety of color images of the covers of these various books, which on its own makes for engrossing viewing. As the books in these various genres go more and more over the top in an attempt to one-up both the last installment, and their competitors , so the covers get more and more hilariously macabre, going from creepy, to gross, to bizarrely absurd.

If nothing else, as I read this book, I found myself wishing there was a Youtube show, like The Cinema Snob, which approached these genre with the same degree of irreverent humor as he does in that show. I’ve already got a bunch on my plate already, otherwise I’d be willing to take up that torch myself. Still, there is definitely a space in internet horror fandom for someone to take it up instead.

Paperbacks from Hell is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions. There’s also an audiobook forthcoming. However, due to just how absolutely important the art is to this book, in terms of showing how these books were presented to the public, I cannot recommend the audiobook when it comes out, and I’m hesitant to recommend the Kindle edition as well. The Paperback edition is the best way to go, with the covers of the various books presented clearly in vivid color.

If Hendrix was to edit a coffee table book compiling their favorites of the covers from this period, I would also give that a clear recommendation, as the covers for these books are intense, over the top, and truly have to be seen to be believed.

The thing with collections of short stories is that, in theory, they should serve as your narrative buffet. You take the stories you like, and if there’s one you don’t like, you can move past it and go on to the next. However, much as some buffets have nothing to like, occasionally some short story collections have nothing enjoyable to them. Thus is the case with The Hastur Cycle and me.

As someone who has enjoyed some of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, and playing the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, I had thought this collection would be right up my alley. I was wrong. As a collection of stories, it has a profoundly unpleasant tone to it that seems to permeate every work in the story. There’s recurring motifs of cruelty to animals in general and cats in particular that particularly turned me off. One story has the “lead” (I wouldn’t call him a protagonist) attempting to murder a cat with their cane, and then another draws a connection between a bus driving off a road into a flood with a sack of kittens being downed.

The latter example felt particularly unnecessary, and bounced me hard out of the story in two different directions. The first was in the context of the image being particularly gross. The second was because I had to ask myself – how and when was this particular act – drowning kittens – widespread enough that it was something that an author would feel is familiar enough to draw reference to – and finding myself really not wanting to know the answer, as learning it would be bad for my sanity.

This isn’t helped by the stories not being in any real chronological order by publication. Some of the earlier stories fit, but the rest don’t have any information in terms of when they were published, and consequently it makes it hard to figure out what stories and conceits came from HPL, and which were contributed by those particular authors.  Looking at the list of stories and diversity of authors in this book, I was hoping was an aspect of the Cthulhu Mythos where Lovecraft was influenced as much as he was influential. Unfortunately, this book does not contain the answers to those questions.

That said, the central focus of the stories – Hastur, Carcosa, and the King in Yellow – are concepts of the Cthulhu mythos that I hadn’t run into that much, and I was interested in reading more about, so this made the fact that the book bounced me out all the more disappointing. It does make me wonder if this particular issue is particularly intrinsic to stories related to Hastur, or if there are short stories and novels where this isn’t an issue.

I can’t recommend this book, though I admit the issues that caused me to bounce out of this book might not be issues for other readers.

If you do want to pick up the book, it is available from Amazon.com. I receive a commission from purchases picked up through that link, so if you want to help support the site in a manner other than my Patreon, consider making any purchases through that link.

There are a few films that other people really like that I have completely bounced off of. I bounced off of Fight Club due to how the film handles mental health issues – and particular its discussion of support groups – using support groups as the negative avenue which Tyler Durden uses to put together Project Mayhem, and ignoring or dismissing the helpful elements support groups have (though, having organized a support group, I admit that I bring some distinct baggage to the table).

The same way, I bounced off of Dawn of the Dead – the most beloved film in George Romero’s Dead series, the same way. The first time I watched it, it turned me off the wagon of the entire Zombie genre. That was almost 10 years ago, so I thought with 10 more years of life experience, maybe I’d be able to roll with the story it’s trying to tell.

Nope.

I bounced off this like Sonic the Hedgehog spin-dashing into a spring in the Green Hill Zone.

I think fundamentally, the reason why this doesn’t work for me is that I’m not particularly nihilistic. I am pessimistic – I try to prepare for the worst so I’m not surprised by it, but I’m never really nihilistic – I never expect and actively hope for the worst.

That’s the problem for me – Dawn of the Dead is a very nihilistic film. It assumes and believes that humanity truly is the worst, and that the best possible outcome for the world is that humanity is wiped out and rendered extinct – that nothing good can come from or for humanity, and that belief is represented clearly by the film’s originally planned (but never shot) ending, where after the protagonists home is destroyed not by the encroaching force-of-nature undead (as with Night of the Living Dead), but by greedy selfish humans – leading one protagonist being killed, one wounded – the remaining two survivors kill themselves – one eating a bullet, the other by decapitation by helicopter blade.

According to my research, that ending wasn’t used not because George Romero thought it was a bit much – but because the audience would have thought it was a bit much.

In the world of Dawn of the Dead, while our handful of protagonists seem okay – or at least are not the garbage humans that are part of the SWAT team, or the project dwellers who are saving their dead even though they are clearly turning into zombies, or the network executive who wants to keep out of date evacuation center information on of the air for the sake of ratings, or the bikers from the film’s conclusion – they are clearly the minority compared to the rest of the world. As that previous run-on sentence makes clear, the rest of the characters in this film are generally crap. We’re not supposed to have empathy for them. We’re supposed to either not care if they live or die, or be okay with them being chewed on by walkers – and that’s the problem.

Horror works best, at least for me, when there are good people in the film who we don’t want bad things to happen to – and for there to be a possibility for the horror to end. With Romero’s Dead series – the source of the horror doesn’t end. The Zombies aren’t going anywhere – and any attempt to rebuild or make any sort of safe place free of the horror will be destroyed by the Assholes.

That said, I can roll with a Worst Ending style apocalypse, but those work for me when it’s a clearly telegraphed uncontrollable situation – the alien from The Thing, The Ancient Evil from In The Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness, that sort of thing. In Dawn of the Dead the apocalypse persists because people are inherently assholes so attempts at reconstruction aren’t worth it or automatically tainted.

My original intent was

One of the strengths of the anthology film in horror, is that horror works really well in short form. It is almost as much the medium of the short story the way that Science Fiction is the realm of the novella and novel, and heroic fantasy is the realm of the novel. This is also why the horror comics of the 50s and 60s leant themselves well to anthology TV series and the anthology film in particular. (more…)

I really like anthology films – particularly when it comes to horror. Anthology films let you take a brief period of time to tell an exciting, concise story that can scare you, excite you, or creep you out. Perhaps this is due to many great horror stories being short stories. One of the masters of the horror story was Edgar Allen Poe. This brings me to Extraordinary Tales, an animated anthology film adaptation 5 of Poe’s short stories. (more…)